Manitoba

Kids' understanding of traffic vital in preventing fatal crosswalk accidents: expert

As the city conducts a traffic-study that includes a crosswalk where an eight-year-old boy was hit and killed by a truck on his way to school in St. Vital this week, a pedestrian safety expert says any changes made need to consider the way children understand how traffic works.

City of Winnipeg reviewing crosswalk safety after eight-year-old boy was hit, killed

A teddy bear is taped to the post of the crosswalk at Varennes Avenue and St. Anne's Road where an eight-year-old boy was struck and killed by a truck Tuesday morning. (Meaghan Ketcheson/CBC)

As the city conducts a traffic-study that includes a crosswalk where an eight-year-old boy was hit and killed by a truck on his way to school in St. Vital this week, a pedestrian safety expert says any changes made need to consider the way children understand how traffic works.

Jeannette Montufar says instead of looking at how to improve crosswalks used by children, we need to look at how children use crosswalks.

"Children have certain types of capabilities and limitations when it comes to interacting with traffic," said Montufar, a former professor of civil engineering at the University of Manitoba who now works at MORR Transportation Consulting. She has helped cities across Canada put pedestrian safety measures into effect.

A young boy was hit by a car and killed this morning as he walked to school

CBC News Manitoba

3 years ago
1:25
An eight-year-old boy hit in a crash at a crosswalk on St. Anne's Road Tuesday morning has died, Winnipeg police say. Police said the boy was walking across the street sometime before 8:20 a.m. when a northbound vehicle hit him near the corner of St. Anne's Road and Varennes Avenue in St. Vital. 1:25

Because of the way our cognitive abilities develop, Montufar says, children don't necessarily understand exactly how traffic behaves and how to use crosswalks until around the age of 12.

"They have physical limitations that need to be taken into consideration when you are designing infrastructure for all users," she said. "The main goals when it comes to a crosswalk is to increase the conspicuity of a pedestrian."

'It's the worst moment for any parent'

The boy, a Grade 3 student at nearby École Varennes, was crossing at the crosswalk on St. Anne's Road near Varennes Avenue sometime before 8:20 a.m. Tuesday when he was hit by a truck.

Surveillance video reviewed by CBC News appears to show the boy and an adult getting ready to enter the crosswalk.

The video shows a car coming to a stop in the curb lane. The two step out and begin to cross. The video shows feet stepping past the car and into the next traffic lane where a truck travelling in that lane is then seen going through the crosswalk without stopping.

A second surveillance video shows the truck has hit the boy.

"It's the worst moment for any parent," Montufar said. "It's devastating."

Emergency crews work at the scene of a fatal accident on St. Anne's Road on Tuesday morning. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

While CBC News can't verify whether the button had been pushed at the crosswalk or whether the lights were flashing when the boy and adult started to cross, Montufar says one car stopping at a crosswalk while a car in the outside lane drives through is a common problem she's seen in her research.

Sometimes, she says, that's caused by the pedestrian not actually pressing the button — meaning the driver in the inside lane will see the pedestrian and stop, but drivers in the other lanes don't know someone is crossing because the lights aren't flashing.

After a tragedy like this, Montufar says, she would first look at the crosswalk and then at the combination of elements that led up to the accident to decide what changes are needed.

"A collision is not just one thing specifically, but it is a number of things going wrong," she said.

St. Vital  Coun. Brian Mayes says he is working to expand the scope of an already approved traffic study to be conducted a few blocks north of St. Anne's Road.

A city spokesperson said the city will review the results of the police investigation related to the crosswalk.

False sense of security

Darren Thomas, risk manager at Manitoba School Boards Association (MSBA), says schools teach students about traffic safety at the beginning of the school year, but it might be time to expand those reminders throughout the year.

"There always seems to be a false sense of security when it comes to crosswalks where you push the button and immediately start walking because as a pedestrian you have the right of way," he said. "We need to teach the students that that's not the case — don't get into that false sense of security where you assume that the vehicles going to stop for you."

A Winnipeg police officer inspects a truck at the scene of the accident. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Thomas says that's why programs such as the patrols and walking school buses —  groups of kids walking short distances to school with a chaperon — are so important.

He says the MSBA has reached out to police since Tuesday's accident and have extra resources at the scene checking driver's speeds in the coming weeks.

Thomas says drivers need to be better educated about safety at crosswalks and red lights, too. 

"There are drivers who don't slow down," he said. "It's just so simple to slow down at the crosswalks and traffic lights."

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of pedestrian safety expert Jeannette Montufar.
    Feb 22, 2018 2:08 PM CT

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